Lawyer – ‘One skilled in the circumvention of the law.’
Putting the cynical humour of Ambrose Bierce aside for just a moment, what is the motivation for entering a career in law? What is it that one is undertaking? In fact the law has many functions in society: maintaining order, resolving disputes, protecting rights and liberties and allocating responsibilities. Law sets out our social contracts and is the foundation for markets, for effective governance and social stability. It sets the rules by which we govern ourselves, our social interactions and out possessions, it allocates power and control, and it alleviates suffering and ameliorates inequity. Clearly, law is not one unified endeavor. Under its rubric are many diverse, even opposed, objectives. So it’s difficult to generalize about studying, teaching and working in the legal field.
Many people do not know that Gandhi started his career as a young barrister in South Africa. He was so unhappy in the practice of law that he considered giving it up, but an experience in one case changed his life,
My joy was boundless. I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men’s hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. … my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby – not even money, certainly not my soul.
Gandhi, An Autobiography, (1959), p. 97
To be sure, not every lawyer shares the same sentiments. No one can say what another’s purpose is or should be. Each of us has to determine this for ourselves.
The evolution over many years of finding one’s way in a career, as Gandhi did and seasoned professionals have traditionally done, may involve a quite different process in legal careers of the future. First, we are entering an era in which education itself is becoming more bespoke in nature. Instead of all law students being required to study the same four- or five-year curriculum before being allowed to begin finding their way in practice, they will undertake more tailored programs and will engage in client services sooner, as already is the case in medicine and veterinary education. This will require more sophisticated and detailed evaluation and planning for each student. Second, career options themselves will be shorter as ongoing transformation requires workers to re-evaluate and reinvent themselves. Instead of one four- or five-year curriculum, there will be several periods of education and training (or re-training) over the course of a professional life.
As technology and AI develop, the human attributes of lawyering will become more discreet and significant, and these will be very particular to individual practitioners.
If you are considering a career in law, or are unsure about whether to study law, our one-day program will provide you with a better understanding about what you need to know to make the best decision for you.